Author Seth Fishman's new Young Adult novel The Well's End was published yesterday, and it's getting great reviews. Booklist gave The Well's End a starred review, calling it "a fast-paced, thrilling adventure story that begs for a sequel."
International best-selling writer Margaret Stohl, co-author of Beautiful Creatures, caught up with Seth to generally fawn over the book and ask him some questions.
Seth Fishman: First of all, my biggest thanks for these really amazingly fun and original interview questions. I’ve long loved your books, and it’s hard to imagine you reading mine and enjoying. What an honor!
Margaret Stohl: Seth, your brain = a deeply dark place. Comparable to, say, a well. True or False? Discuss.
SF: Truish! I’d like to think that if you shine a light into my brain, you find that it isn’t so scary, or that it’s full of nice things, like water or wishes. That said, I often set the tone for The Well’s End by imagining what it would be like to be stuck down a well. The cold, the smell, the darkness, the fear. My mind and wells = best friends.
MS: When a little girl falls down a well and years later, finds herself getting in once again over her head—this time in the middle of a conspiracy involving a killer virus, her father, and her school—I get the feeling this story didn’t come from a dream about sparkly vampires, Seth. How did it come to you?
SF: I like all sorts of vampires, but when I set out to write this book, I wanted to ground the story in as much terrifying reality as possible. So I started with the girl who fell down the well, loosely based on ‘Baby Jessica’ McClure, who really did fall down a well in my hometown when I was a kid. Once I had this backstory in place, I wanted to invite the reader to become so confident in the reality of the book’s world that when it tilts, they don’t even notice (or, at least, feel that it’s very naturally part of the ride).
MS: The Well’s End is an adrenaline rush from start to finish. Was that the plan, or do you just like to torment high school students? When you read, are you also an adrenaline junkie?
SF: Ha, very kind of you to say! Maybe the torture comes as payback for all the years I was a camp counselor. I’d say that I worked very hard with my editor on the pacing of the book, though I didn’t map out cliffhanger chapter endings or anything like that. Still, considering that the [semi-SPOILER] virus moved pretty quickly, if I wanted to have anyone living by the end of the book, I had to keep the pedal to the floor. The challenge, I suppose, was building legit, fleshed characters while they were constantly running for their lives. As to reading, I love a good thriller or adrenaline push (like Pierce Brown’s Red Rising or Marie Lu’s Legend series) but I’m just as much a fan of the slower literary (David Mitchell or Gabriel Garcia Marquez being favorites). Depends on the mood, on where I’m reading them, and on whether I want to get any sleep!
MS: Bones break. Bullets fly. Parents and students are disposed of. And I’m reading your book on a flight home from Tokyo, having Battle Royale flashbacks. Did you know you were going to have to shed a lot of blood to take Mia on her journey from just being the girl who fell down the well?
SF: I’m not afraid of killing off characters. In fact, I believe one of the reasons Game of Thrones is so compelling and ‘fresh’ is that George R.R. Martin kills off major characters left and right. This raises the stakes in the book and keeps the reader on his/her toes. It also is a real challenge that I love: the author has to be able to create more than just one character and rely on them. Battle Royale still haunts me; I believe having The Well’s End haunt someone would be the height of compliment.
MS: Your main character, Mia, is a competitive swimmer thrust into the role of survivalist. She talks about forcing herself to “dive in,” as an exercise in conquering her own fears. Yet your book is full of things to be very, very afraid of, right?
SF: I couldn’t help but play with the juxtaposition, really. The idea that Mia was petrified of water and darkness because of some freak childhood accident did nothing to stop me from putting ‘monsters’ in the water and the dark. In this case, her fears were justified.
MS: So can fears really ever be conquered? Or do they just give way to new fears? What’s more frightening – trusting people or diving into the unknown?
SF: I’m really fascinated by the role fear plays in the actions we all take, every day. For Mia, I wanted her fears to both hinder and aid, to be very much part of her identity. At the same time, I don’t think facing fears is easy; you don’t have a fear of heights and go skydiving once and get cured, you’re still scared of height, just more able to deal with the phobia. I wanted fear to push Mia, and I wanted her to not always be rewarded. Sometimes the answer isn’t to dive right in. And if you do, you might not always like what you find.
That said, I think trust is one of the greatest characteristics of humanity. When we learn to trust someone, they become a part of ourselves. They know our needs and fears and our weaknesses. If you travel in a group, and you trust those people, suddenly everyone becomes smarter faster stronger.
MS: Diving in seems almost like the best way to describe the narrative structure of your book, Seth. Maybe that’s also an apt way to describe a debut novel, from a successful literary agent no less. What made you dive in as a writer, here and now?
SF: A ‘debut author’ is a deceptive term. Most writers have books and stories in drawers that have never seen the light of a bookstore shelf. I’ve been writing as a hobby since I was fourteen, and The Well’s End was the culmination of years of false starts and craft-building. Debuts are really just a longtime writer’s chance to finally meet an audience. Despite the fact that I represent some amazing authors as a literary agent, and have seen them go through publications of their own books, this still feels entirely new and exciting and, in some ways, terrifying.
MS: I really loved your book: what else should I read? What goes next to The Well’s End on your imaginary shelf? For that matter, what would Mia Kish’s favorite books be?
SF: That’s a great question (and I’m so glad you loved the book)! It’s hard for me not to think of the books that influenced me when I was a teenager when creating Mia, which is, I understand, potentially problematic to a modern audience, so I’d say she’d have a nice mix. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (I know, I know, borrow someone’s copy or go to the library), and aside from the two titles mentioned above, Laini Taylor and Leigh Bardugo and, ahem, a certain Icons series are really wonderful. Finally, I’d think that Mia would be open to having amazing graphic novels like Saga by Brian K. Vaughn or Fables by Bill Willingham. If you want a good thriller, read Lexicon by Max Barry (though I don’t see that on Mia’s shelf, not as much as, say Prep or The Secret History).
MS: When can we get our hands on the next one?
SF: Ha. Ask my editor! She has it in her hands as we speak! Should be out one year after The Well’s End.